So this is the last of the first half of this series, looking at the history of UK military bridging. Once past this, it’s on to equipment.
Any takers on whether Mexeflotes and ISO containers will sneak in?
Iraq – Operation Telic
During the initial assault operations in 2003, Iraqi forces had tried to destroy one of the bridges (North Ramaylah) on the advance route but had only managed to drop a single span creating a 33m gap. There was also some additional damage caused by US forces, creating a large 4m crater. The explosives left had to be cleared by hand on the 20th March 2003 to allow a forward air refuelling point to be established.
9 Parachute Squadron RE installed a Medium Girder Over Bridge (MGOB) over the crater under fire to support an MLC35 vehicle and on the 23rd of March 64 HQ Squadron (28 Engineer Regiment) installed a 32m un-tensioned BR90 Long Span General Support Bridge (GSB) with an MLC of 16 at the bridge site in support of 51 Field Squadron (Air Support) who also assisted at the bridge site by demolishing a span to provide access space for the GSB.
This was the first operational deployment of the GSB (although other sources state that another was deployed by 2 Hq Sqn) and allowed the bridge to traffic CVR(T).
A day later the GSB had a reinforcement link set installed to increase the classification to MLC 80.
On the 26th March in the first operational deployment of the M3 Rig, 23 Amphibious Engineer Squadron (including 413 Amphibious Engineer Troop (V)) supported by 59 and 131(V) Commando Squadrons provided a ferry service for the Scots dragoon Guards at ‘Crossing Point Anna’
Crossing Point Anna, video courtesy Keith Dodds
On the 30thMarch the M3 Rigs were used at the North Ramaylah Bridge site to allow AS90’s and other heavy vehicles of D Battery 3 RHA to cross.
The GSB here was subsequently replaced with a Logistic Support Bridge
At a single location a MGOB, BR90 GSB, M3 Rig and LSB were all used.
Prior to hostilities in 1991 the concrete bridge over the Shatt al Arab at Al Bushayr was a swing bridge type to enable river traffic to pass. The bridge spans an island in the middle of the river called Sinbad Island, supposedly the home of Sinbad!
The bridge was destroyed in the Gulf War in 1991 and replaced with a pontoon bridge; this had subsequently been destroyed in the early stages of Operation Telic.
A repair was needed, some elements of the existing damaged pontoon bridge had been stolen and used elsewhere on the river as landing stages for example so the repair required some of them to be ‘stolen back’. Repairs were made and new sections inserted, this time, everything was bolted and welded together.
The repaired bridge, cost $55, was named Cullingworth Bridge after SSGT Simon Cullingworth, who was murdered together with Sapper Allsopp, and built by 29 Armd Engr Sqn supported by 23 Amph Engineer Squadron.
Sometime later the bridge was damaged by an overloaded concrete truck and yet more repairs needed.
Engineers from the New Zealand Defence Force were also involved in a second bridge repair and the image below shows them working on the Al Tannumah Bridge, adjacent to Cullingworth.
Another interesting bridge was the Aldershot Bridge, an extremely long floating Mabey Compact Bridge that was continually maintained over a number of years.
A local Iraqi was also engaged to support the bridge build with his large mobile crane
The completed Aldershot Bridge
The story does not end there though because almost immediately after it was finished the same helpful Iraqi crane operator drove his enormous crane over the bridge and damaged it so badly it needed explosive cutting charges to enable the bent, submerged and buckled sections to be extricated before a repair and rebuild process could be completed.
Other bridging operations were of course carried out over the period UK forces were deployed to Iraq.
Afghanistan – Operation Herrick
Although one might imagine the combat engineering focus in Afghanistan has been on Counter IED, force protection, life support and introducing Hesco Bastion to every corner of the country there have been some significant bridging operations.
The full gamut of bridging equipment has been used including infantry assault bridges, BR90, MGB, APFB, LSB, Chinook emplaced bridges and of course the old fashioned but still relevant construction bridging (non equipment).
The video below shows a Medium Girder Bridge being built at night and in combat conditions in 2008.
The GSB has been successfully used in operations in Afghanistan, crossing the 34m gap Nahr-e-Bugra Canal near Shaheed in northern Nad-e-Ali on the 20th February 2009, as part of Operation Moshtarak.
A good example below of a Logistic Support Bridge is in the video below, it replacing a BR90 GSB
In March 2011 Royal Engineers built a 34m Mabey Logistic Support (called the Friendship Bridge), click here for more details
and another similar bridge in August 2011 as part of operation Omid Haft.
Also as part of the same operation is the longest GSB built in a combat theatre, the 45m Haft Bridge
A recent video from BFBS below shows another GSB, this time a 32m one built at night in just 22 minutes.
So as can be seen from the images above and looking back through the previous posts equipment bridging has come a long way from the Canal Lock Bridge and Bailey but the basic principles remain, bridging supports the objectives of the military commander by providing or improving mobility across obstacles or gaps.
Despite all the hi-technology on show I am going to close this half of the bridging series with a simple image from this news story from the MoD
Soldiers from 9 Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers (RE) carried out the repairs on the bridge after being alerted to the damage and resulting problems by soldiers from 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment (2 PARA), who regularly patrol the area. Following an initial assessment of the damage and the work required to make the crossing capable of carrying tractors once again, the necessary materials for the job were transported to nearby Checkpoint Perkha by the Paras. To do this, they made several journeys by quad bike – the only vehicle capable of getting through the series of narrow tracks running between irrigated fields. A team of six engineers, led by Lieutenant Keith McDougall, then began the task of building the new bridge. Firstly the abutments were shored up with pickets and corrugated iron sheeting, then a deck was constructed, consisting of timber baulks held together with a giant iron staple and resting on sandbags.
Non Equipment Bridging or construction bridging is just as vital and relevant a skill today as it was at the beginning of military bridging.
OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES